Book: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

Previous: Chapter 56
Next: Chapter 58

57

 

I COULDN’T GO TO SCHOOL THE NEXT DAY, EITHER— that much was obvious. Who knew what triggered the deaths—was a stray thought enough? Or did I have to envision it? And what about the animals that died, even thought I never explicitly wanted them to? What about Rachel?

I needed to rebuild my world and figure out my place in it before I would be safe around the general population. I told my mother that I wanted to stay home, that going back to school yesterday was a little too much for me and I wanted to wait until after my appointment with Dr. Maillard today to try it again. Given my recent behavior, she was happy to oblige.

I made it to lunch without incident. But as I stood in the kitchen midway through making myself a sandwich, someone started pounding on the front door.

I froze. They didn’t go away.

I crept soundlessly to the foyer and looked through the peephole. I let out a sigh of relief. Noah stood on my front step, disheveled and furious.

“Get in the car,” he said. “There’s something you need to see.”

“What? What are you—”

“It’s about your father’s case. We need to make it to the courthouse before the trial’s over. I’ll explain, but come.”

My mind raced to catch up but I followed Noah without hesitating, locking the door behind me. He didn’t stand on ceremony and I flung open the passenger door and dove in. Noah backed out of the driveway in seconds, then reached into the backseat and withdrew a newspaper. He dropped The Miami Herald in my lap as he wove between lanes, ignoring the irritated honking that followed.

I read the headline: crime scene photos leaked on final day of palmer trial. I scanned the photos; a few of the crime scene and one of Leon Lassiter, my father’s client. Then I skimmed the article. It gave a detailed overview of the case, but I was missing something.

“I don’t understand,” I said, focusing on Noah’s clenched jaw and angry stare.

“Did you look at the photos? Carefully?”

My eyes roamed the pictures, disturbing though they were. Two of them showed Jordana Palmer’s dismembered body lying piecemeal in the tall grass, with chunks of flesh ripped from her calves, her arms, her torso. The third was a landscape, taken from the distance, with markers showing the position and location where the body was found. The little concrete shed where Noah and I had found Joseph was cast in a penumbral shadow by the flash.

My hand fluttered to my mouth. “Oh my God.”

“I saw it when I went to go buy cigarettes during lunch. I tried to call but there was no answer at the house, and of course you still don’t have a mobile. So I drove straight here from school,” he said in a rush. “It’s the same shed, Mara. Exactly the same.”

I remembered Joseph, lying on the concrete floor in a nest of blankets, his hands and feet bound by twist ties. And how Noah and I were almost too late to save him.

To save him from ending up exactly like Jordana. My stomach rolled with nausea.

“What does this mean?” I asked, even though I already knew.

Noah ran his hands through his hair as he sped, pushing ninety-five. “I don’t know. The photograph they have of Lassiter shows him wearing a Rolex on his right hand. When I saw the documents in the Collier County archives in my mind, whoever was pulling files had the same watch,” he finished, before swallowing. “But I’m not sure.”

“He took Joseph,” I said, my voice and mind hazy.

Noah’s expression was hard. “It doesn’t make sense, though. Why would he go after his own lawyer’s child?”

My mind flooded with images. Joseph, the way he must have looked when he was waiting for a ride home from school the day he was taken. My parents, as they spoke in tense voices about my father dropping the case. My father speaking to Lassiter—

That same night.

“My father was going to drop his case,” I said, strangely removed. “Because of me. Because I was falling apart. He spoke to him that afternoon.”

“Still doesn’t make sense. Your father would have dropped it for sure if one of his children disappeared. The judge absolutely would have ordered a continuance.”

“Then he took him because he’s sick,” I said, my voice a twisted hiss. My mind raced, tumbling ahead before my mouth could catch up. I flashed back to before I knew about the case, before this had all happened. To my brother watching the news one afternoon, as Daniel lifted an unmarked envelope.

“Where did this come from?” Daniel asked.

“Dad’s new client dropped it off, like, two seconds before you got here.”

Lassiter knew Joseph. Knew where we lived.

“I’ll kill him.” I spoke the shocking words so softly I wasn’t even sure I’d said them aloud. I wasn’t even sure I’d thought them, until Noah’s eyes turned on me.

“No,” he said carefully. “We’re going to go to the courthouse and find your father and have the trial continued. We’ll tell him what happened. He’ll withdraw from the case.”

“It’s too late,” I said. The words congealed on my tongue, and the weight of them pulled me down. “The trial’s over today. Once the jury’s out—it’s over.”

Noah shook his head. “I called. They’re not out yet. We can make it,” he said, his gaze flicking to the clock on the dashboard.

I turned the paper over in my hand, examining it as my dark thoughts grew and spread and swallowed up any possible alternative.

“Whoever leaked these photos did it to influence the jury. They did it because my father—because Lassiter—is winning. He’s going to be acquitted. He’s going to be free.”

I couldn’t let it happen.

But would I really be able to stop it?

I had wanted Jude dead, and he was. And I’d killed Morales and Mabel’s owner just by wanting it, thinking about it, about her choking, his head smashed in. I grew nauseous at the imagery, but swallowed hard and forced myself to remember, to try to understand so that if I needed to, I could do it again. The collapsed building, the anaphylactic shock, the head injury; those were the causes of the deaths.

I was the agent.

Noah’s voice snapped me back into the moment. “There is something profoundly wrong here. I know it, which is why I came to get you. But we don’t have a fucking clue what’s going on. We have to get to the courthouse and speak to your father.”

“Then what?” I asked, my voice hollow.

“Then we’ll give statements about Joseph’s kidnapping, and Lassiter will be indicted for it.”

“And he’ll be out on bail again, just like this time. And what evidence can we give?” I said, my voice rising. I hadn’t meant to say—to think—my earlier words, but a crazed enthusiasm was taking over. Adrenaline flowed through my veins. “Joseph doesn’t remember a thing except for the lies we told him. And I’m on antipsychotics,” I said, my voice growing steadier and steadier. “No one’s going to believe us.”

Noah switched tactics, no doubt because I was right. In a low voice, he said, “I brought you because I trusted you. You don’t want to do this.”

As Noah asserted his knowledge of what I wanted, my mind rebelled. “Why not? I’ve killed people for less than murdering and butchering a teenage girl and kidnapping my baby brother.” I grew incomprehensibly giddy.

“And last week—that was you at peace with it, then?”

Noah’s words stopped me in my tracks. But then. “Maybe I’m a sociopath, but I don’t feel sorry about Mabel’s owner. At all.”

“I wouldn’t either,” Noah admitted. The muscles worked in his jaw. “Jude deserved it, too, you know.”

I tilted my head at him. “Did he? You say that because he almost hurt me—”

“He did hurt you,” Noah said, suddenly fierce. “Just because it could have been worse doesn’t mean he didn’t hurt you.”

“He didn’t rape me, Noah. He hit me. He kissed me. I killed him for that.”

Noah’s eyes darkened. “Good riddance.”

I shook my head. “You think that’s fair?” Noah said nothing, his eyes a thousand miles away. “Well, the way you feel about him is the way I feel about Lassiter.”

“No,” he said, as he turned off the highway on to a bustling street. I could see the courthouse in the distance. “There’s a difference. With Jude, you were alone and terrified and your mind reacted without you even knowing it. With him it was self-defense. With Lassiter—it would be an execution.”

The air swallowed his words as he let that sink in. Then he said, “There are other ways to solve that problem, Mara.”

Noah swung into the shaded parking lot next to the courthouse and cut the engine. We flew out of the car, my mind turning over his words as we ran up the courthouse steps.

There were other ways to solve the problem, Noah had said. But I knew they wouldn’t work.

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Next: Chapter 58